Texas Strat-strangler Kenny Wayne Shepherd goes all Stevie Ray on Vancouver’s ass

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JAN. 14, 1999

Guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughan had a profound effect on a lot of people, and 21-year-old blues-rock whiz kid Kenny Wayne Shepherd is one of them. As the story goes, Shepherd developed his Stevie Ray obsession at the age of seven when the Texas Strat-strangler sat him atop one of his on-stage amp cases during a concert.

Fourteen years later, Shepherd has turned his Vaughan fixation into a burgeoning career that includes platinum albums, sold-out concerts, and a musical appearance in a Gap ad. The thing is, shouldn’t Shepherd just be playing in a Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute band? The guy doesn’t sing. And as for his songwriting talent, the best tune on his new CD is a 10-year-old Bob Dylan number. Lucky for Shepherd, there are still enough die-hard SRV devotees to keep him in business, and 1,100 of them packed the Vogue Theatre last Sunday (January 10).

Opening with two fiery instrumentals, one of them the title track of his latest CD, Trouble Is… (which he recorded with Vaughan’s old band, Double Trouble), Shepherd didn’t keep the Vaughan fanatics waiting long for an homage to their fallen hero. This live version didn’t feature any percolating organ work, because Shepherd’s keyboardist, Jimmy Wallace, wasn’t there. Neither was his rhythm guitarist, Joe Nadeau. But thankfully, his exceptional drummer, Sam “Freight Train” Bryant, showed up to provide a killer backbone for the proceedings, and bassist Keith Christopher deftly handled the bottom end.

For Shepherd’s third selection, “True Lies”, vocalist Noah Hunt appeared to lead the first of several standard-sounding boogie-blues workouts showcasing the guitarist’s flashy but imitative style. The crowd was fairly reserved at this point, although there was one fellow in the front row howling out loud, as if he was witnessing some transcendent musical happening. Somebody should have pointed out to him that he can see similar action a few blocks down, at the Yale, whenever a local Vaughan-oriented act like Texas Flood or Mike Schau & Highway 61 is booked.

Better yet, catch Nanaimo’s David Gogo when he’s in a Stevie/Hendrix frame of mind.

“Here’s our brand-new single, so check it out,” announced Hunt, as opposed to saying “Here’s an old Dylan tune we’re making a few bucks off of.” Actually, Shepherd’s rollicking version of Dylan’s “Everything Is Broken” is pretty cool; I quite like it. But during that song, and throughout the gig, Hunt seemed to be holding back on vocals, not quite sure of himself. Near the end of the show, the flustered singer said something about wanting to bring his own monitor guy next time, so he probably couldn’t hear himself too well.

No matter. As long as Shepherd was tearing up the frets, snarling regularly, and flipping his blond locks around, the audience wasn’t about to ask for refunds. The crowd even surged to the front of the stage for the encore, a no-holds-barred version of Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”.

Hey, didn’t Stevie used to close with that one, too?

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